As the song goes, “Everything must change, nothing stays the same”… Christmas can be a sad time, when we realise just how different things have become.
When I was a little girl, Christmas was a big family affair for me, my Mummy, Daddy, and four brothers and sisters, granny, Nona and Auntie Valerie. We lived in a big Victorian house that had once belonged to a show jumper who had died on the Titanic on her honeymoon. Part of the stables had been converted into a granny flat for Nona and Auntie Valerie, who argued constantly and sometimes bashed each other with their walking sticks. Then there was Connie, the daily cleaner and Becky, our live-in Coptic Christian maid who had followed my mother to the UK from Alexandria. They were all these for Christmas. What a crowd! I wonder how my mother coped? No wonder we needed such a massive turkey!
Christmas did not involve going to church, although my mother always claimed to be Catholic. I do remember a lot of carol singing and Nativity plays at school, but we never went to midnight mass. Truth be told, 25 December was no more than an excuse to ‘deck the halls’ and eat turkey, roast potatoes and chocolate truffles (by the ton).
Our big old house was also a cold old house, unless the fires were lit. I remember Becky lighting the fires in fireplaces. We always had to dress up warmly. My mother wrapped us up in scratchy, itchy jumpers and scarves, and I hated the feel of the wool against my face.
We would have a big tree, which we would decorate with the same battered baubles and tinsel every year. It be crowned by a tatty fairy. I remember going through all the bulbs on the old-fashioned tree lights trying to find which once had blown. Months earlier, my mother would make a Christmas cake and drench it with brandy before decorating it with white icing so hard that you needed a small hatchet to get through it.
We would get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas Day and look inside the pillow cases full of gifts which had been left at the end of our beds (probably an attempt on my parents’ part to keep us out of their room for as long as possible). Then we would go downstairs where each of us had an armchair covered in presents to open. I would drag this out for as long as possible. Then my mother would make breakfast and spend all morning concocting a huge Christmas lunch.
Sometimes, after lunch, we would go for a walk in the park in the snow. The holidays were even better when it snowed.
So many fond memories, but now I’ve grown up and it years since my parents died. I live thousands of miles from my brothers and sisters and it would be impossible recreate Christmas the way it was when I was little. If I could close my eyes and experience it all again, just one more time, of course I would, but that’s impossible. So this year, if the sun shines, which it usually does, I’ll put my sadness and nostalgia behind me, take some glasses onto terrace, pour some cava, toast to being lucky enough to have such lovely memories and look forward to making more, while I still can.